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Facebook update brings 'Messenger rooms' to rival Zoom alongside host of other changes to keep people in contact

New video chat feature arrives alongside bigger WhatsApp group calls and Instagram live feature

Andrew Griffin
Friday 24 April 2020 19:32 BST
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This illustration picture taken on July 24, 2019 in Paris shows the logo of the instant messaging application of Facebook called Messenger on the screen of a tablet
This illustration picture taken on July 24, 2019 in Paris shows the logo of the instant messaging application of Facebook called Messenger on the screen of a tablet (MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook is introducing a host of new changes to make it easier to keep in touch through lockdown.

Chief among them is new Messenger Rooms, which allows for large, Zoom-like conversations that put many people in one video chat – even if they do not have an account.

The social network is rolling out the new service from today, alongside a host of expanded live video-focused features across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Though the person setting up the chat will require a Facebook account, others without one can be invited along, participating on mobile or desktop.

Messenger Rooms will soon hold up to 50 people with no time limit, as well as privacy and safety "top of mind", the company said.

"We don't view or listen to your calls, and the person who creates the room controls who can join, who sees the room, and if the room is locked or unlocked to new guests," explained Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook's vice president of Messenger.

"The room creator must be present in order for the call to begin, and the creator can remove guests at any time."

The service will also play host to AI-powered immersive 360-degree backgrounds, such as the beach and a luxury apartment on the water.

Users can start and share rooms on Facebook through News Feed, groups and events, while plans are under way to allow rooms to be created from Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, as well as Facebook's video chat device Portal.

It comes amid a surge in people turning to video chat technology as a means of staying in touch during lockdown, with Facebook reporting demand for video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubling in areas most affected by coronavirus.

WhatsApp Group Calls will now be able to host a maximum of eight people instead of four.

Views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos also increased significantly in March, both of which will receive updates of their own.

Facebook's Live With video feature is making a return, allowing people streaming a live video to invite another person to participate alongside them.

Zoom emerged as one of the more popular platforms in recent months, though it has been marred by security issues which the company has addressed with an update to the software.

Among the problems has been "Zoombombing", in which a stranger accesses a meeting uninvited and displays offensive material - in some cases child abuse footage, which the National Crime Agency (NCA) says it is investigating.​

Additional reporting by agencies

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